To Coach or not to Coach

To Coach or not to Coach

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I was inspired for this article by the same titled blog post from Simon Nadav Cohen that you can find here:

In the article, Simon speaks to his experience of overusing the “coaching stance” in his agile coaching interactions and showing that more nuance is often required. I wanted to explore it even more from an additional context – that of leadership coaching. But let me start out here…

Are you aware of the 5 Why’s tool? It’s a lean technique for getting to the root cause of a problem or challenge. You keep asking why, five times in fact, in order to “peel the onion” of a problem and get to the root.

It’s a favorite tool in retrospectives where a team is examining a specific challenge and trying to figure out how to solve or prevent it from reoccurring.

Why do I mention it? (pun slightly intended)

If you’ve ever used the technique you know that it can feel a bit contrived or artificial in operation. Then it can lose its efficacy, as the team sort of “mails the responses in” to the 5 Why’s.  It’s not that the tool is ineffective, it’s just that the overuse of the tool can diminish it usefulness.

I’ve seen teams on more than one occasion roll their eyes and disengage when a Scrum Master continues to repeat the 5 Why’s in retrospectives.

And again, why bring it up?

Because I think the traditional coaching stance can be similarly overused. Here’s an additional quote from Simon’s article that illustrates the point:

There’s also the emotional and intuitive aspects of assessing the situation. Have you ever sat in front of someone and had that frustrating sense that they are trying to coach you? As one coach here said: “if you have something to say, say it.” This kind of gut sense is important for a coach to go through. If you know you want to go to a particular thought or destination you have, then offer it up, and then pull for their thoughts. For example, “I noticed you often take too much space during facilitation. I think it’d be good for the team if you were able to hold silence for longer, so the introverted folks could talk. What do you think about that?” Notice that pulling, open ended question at the end? That’s not the coaching stance. That’s working together with someone to further along their development with strong beliefs, lightly held.

If you think the stance can be overused in team-based coaching, I’m here to tell you to be careful with it in leadership coaching situations.

I remember not that long ago I was sitting with a group of senior leaders at a client organization. They were lamenting some of their toughest problems. Jumping up, I offered them the 5 Why’s as a means of getting to the root of their issues.

You would have thought I’d suggested they attend a circus clown convention. Let’s just say, this particular tool didn’t resonate well with them. Not at all.

But what did resonate with them was:

  • Leveraging my emotional intelligence and sensing what would work in the room;
  • Sharing my experiences in the areas where they were struggling and sharing specific approaches that I’ve found helpful;
  • Facilitating their discussions to keep them focused on the challenges and working together to come up with their own options and strategies;
  • Helping them to narrow in on immediate and specific actions to advance the ball.

Yes, I asked questions along the way. And yes, some of them were more open-ended. But the reality was that I wove all four coaching quadrants together. And most importantly, I entered the situation with them…as a partner.

I really enjoyed what Simon had to say, which is why I’m sharing it with you.

To be clear, I’m not arguing against the usage of the 5 Why’s or the traditional agile coaching stance. There are certainly times to use them.

But at the end of the day, how should I say it?

You don’t want these techniques to be your hammer when every coaching situation looks like a nail…

Stay agile my friends,


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